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3 lunch ideas kids – and parents – can enjoy

Sandwich, salads, dips are delicious, quick to prepare

By CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street
Published: August 23, 2023, 6:04am
3 Photos
A breaded chicken cutlet sandwich. Thin breaded chicken cutlets fry up in minutes, and are terrific made into sandwiches or served with dipping sauces.
A breaded chicken cutlet sandwich. Thin breaded chicken cutlets fry up in minutes, and are terrific made into sandwiches or served with dipping sauces. (Photos by Milk Street) Photo Gallery

Bologna sandwiches may be the easiest kid’s school lunch, but it’s not difficult to prepare brown-bag meals that parents can appreciate too. These chicken cutlet, pasta salad and chicken salad recipes come together with flavor-boosting ingredients in just about 30 minutes.

Thin breaded chicken cutlets fry up in minutes, and are terrific made into sandwiches or served with any of the easy dipping sauces listed below. To boost their flavor, mix whatever spice blend you have on hand into the breading before coating the chicken.

We use Japanese panko breadcrumbs, which have a coarse, fluffy texture that cooks up remarkably light and crisp. Look for cutlets that are about ¼-inch thick so they cook through at the same speed the breading browns.

For creamy-rich pasta salad that’s also bright and fresh, we took inspiration from Mexican esquites, corn that typically is grilled or roasted and finished with a mixture of herbs, lime, chili and cheese. We simmer corn cobs in the water that’s later used for cooking the pasta for additional sweet, grassy flavor. The kernels, meanwhile, are charred and tossed with brine from pickled jalapeños, cilantro, Mexican crema and salty cotija.

If you can’t find fresh corn, then frozen kernels that have been thawed and patted dry work nicely; you’ll need 2 pounds. If using frozen kernels, you won’t have cobs to simmer, so simply boil the pasta in the water.

To make a better chicken salad, white miso is a one-stroke solution, adding savory flavor to a tangy, aromatic dressing with rich body. Grated ginger brightens the dressing with punchy flavor, and sliced cucumber and a generous dose of herbs add freshness. Slivered almonds contribute a pleasing crunch.

You could poach the chicken for this salad, but to simplify the recipe even further, we used the shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken. A 3-pound rotisserie chicken will yield about 3 cups of meat. The dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated up to four days.

Crisp-Breaded Chicken Cutlets

Start to finish: 30 minutes. Servings: 4 to 6

2 large eggs

Kosher salt

½ cup all-purpose flour

2 cups panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons chili powder OR curry powder OR harissa spice blend OR shichimi togarashi

Six 4-ounce chicken cutlets (about ¼-inch thick)

½ cup neutral oil, divided

Beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon salt. Place the flour in a second bowl and the panko in a third; stir 1 teaspoon salt into each, then stir the chili powder into the panko. One at a time, coat the cutlets on both sides with flour, dip into the eggs, then coat both sides with panko, pressing to adhere. In a large nonstick skillet, heat ¼ cup of oil until shimmering. Add 3 cutlets and brown on both sides, then transfer to a wire rack. Add the remaining ¼ cup oil and cook the remaining cutlets in the same way.

Dipping Sauces for Crispy Cutlets

  • Tangy Soy-Sesame Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil. Makes ¾ cup.
  • Yogurt-Chutney Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt, 3 tablespoons mango chutney, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Makes 1¼ cups.
  • Yogurt-Tahini Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons tahini, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Makes 1 cup.
  • Sour Cream and Lime Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup sour cream, the grated zest and juice of 1 lime, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Makes 1 cup.
  • Sriracha-Mayo Sauce: In a small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons Sriracha and ¹/3 cup each mayonnaise and ketchup. Makes ¾ cup.

Pasta Salad With Charred Corn and Cilantro

Start to finish: 30 minutes. Servings: 4 to 6

5 cups fresh corn kernels from about 5 ears of corn, cobs reserved (see story)

8 ounces ditalini OR penne OR elbow macaroni

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

2 tablespoons neutral oil

½ cup Mexican crema OR ½ cup sour cream whisked with 2 tablespoons water (see story)

2 ounces cotija cheese, finely grated (½ cup)

1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1/3 cup pickled jalapeños, chopped, plus 3 tablespoons brine

In a large pot, combine 4 quarts water and the corn cobs. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, then remove and discard the cobs. Stir in the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until fully tender. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water, tossing, until cool to the touch. Drain again, shaking the colander to remove as much water as possible; set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet over high, heat the oil until barely smoking. Add the corn in an even layer and cook without stirring for about 3 minutes, allowing the kernels to char. Stir once, then cook without stirring until most of the kernels are fully charred, about 2 minutes. Set aside off heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the crema, half of the cotija, the cilantro, pickled jalapeños and their brine, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in the corn and pasta, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining cotija.

Optional garnish: Chili powder OR lime wedges OR sliced scallions OR a combination.

Miso-Ginger Chicken Salad

Start to finish: 30 minutes. Servings: 4

1/3 cup white miso

2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted, divided

1/3 cup lime juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Kosher salt and ground white pepper

½ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (see note)

6 medium scallions, thinly sliced (½ cup)

½ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, finely chopped

½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced (1 cup)

In a blender, combine ¹/3 cup water, the miso, ginger, ¹/3 cup of the almonds, the lime juice, mustard, honey and ½ teaspoon white pepper. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the oil and blend until thick, about 1 minute. Transfer to a jar, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, scallions, cilantro, cucumber and remaining ¹/3 cup almonds. Add 1 cup of the dressing and toss. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.

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